Theories of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change emerged in the nineteenth century for good reason. On the one hand, sciences such as chemistry and physics were at a point where research could advance on a scholarly basis. On the other hand, people could observe that climatic conditions were beginning to change. In 1861, John Tyndall started research into ice age theories. Tyndall was an avid mountain climber who no doubt saw the receding glaciers during his treks. Svante Arrhenius, in 1896, hypothesized that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere determined the temperature. He believed that the burning of coal would lead to a rise in temperature over time. In the 1920s, scientist Joseph Fourier speculated on the trapping of gases and heat determining climate.
The Anthropogene Warming Period (AWG) was born out of the Industrial Revolution, which got under way in the early 1800s, at least in terms of large-scale use of fossil fuels, especially coal. By 1900, these emissions had become significant and were accumulating in the atmosphere. The climate began to warm. The warming period of today is simply a later stage in the Industrial Revolution, one that is now spreading to other parts of the world such as China and India, where about one-third of the world's population lives.
Climate change can have quite specific implications for certain regions, especially when joined with human activities. There are examples of climate change on a much more regional basis. Extreme drought coupled with intrusive agricultural practices led to enormous economic and demographic upheavals in the American Midwest in the 1930s (the Dust Bowl).
The following section looks at two climate change and conflict cases from the Anthropogene Warming Period. One example comes from the existing areas of climate change and conflict in the shifting domains of the Sahel. A second example focuses on the ability to expand into new areas, and the opening of the Northwest Passage.
The Fulani and the Zarma: regional changes in climate
For most of history, human contribution to climate change was non-existent or minimal. The ability of humans to cope with and adjust to climate change was vital to survival. Natural events like climate change often led to conflict, as occurred between the Fulani and the Zarma in West Africa.
Climate change creates new ecotones or transition areas of habitation that impact economic livelihood patterns. As climate zones move, so too do the people who live in them. People may bring along the old economic subsistence patterns and, because of this mismatch, these transformations are not always successful.
Desertification is a characteristic of a warmer climate period, and particularly of concern in the Equatorial Tension Belt. "Desertification exacerbates poverty and political instability. It contributes significantly to water scarcity, famine, the internal displacement of people, migration, and social breakdown. This is a recipe for political instability, tensions between neighboring countries, and even armed conflict" (UN 2008).
Desertification also is part of a feedback process with climate change: climate change can cause desertification, which itself can produce climate change (UN 2008). This feedback, coupled with rising populations, creates a downward spiral in carrying capacity.
There are also cases where farmers, who generally outnumber pastoralists, push into traditional grazing areas. Between 1940 and 1960, more precipitation than normal fell in the Sahel, and farmers pushed north and encroached on traditional pastoralist lands (Herrero 2006).
The Sahel is also an area that is one of the poorest and least developed portions of the world, and one that has long witnessed social instability, worsened by colonization. State control and impact in these areas has always been marginal. The influx of people fleeing drought areas also degraded environmental resources (Herrero 2006).
The conflict in Niger is a classic case of ecotone shift by climates and by people. The Sahara Desert, the largest arid area on the planet, moves periodically along a north-south line. The Sahel is one such ecotone, sitting between the extremely arid Sahara Desert and the tropical forests of west, central, and east Africa. This ebb and flow of desertification, brought on by changing precipitation patterns, brings people into confrontation. The line between habitable and inhabitable areas moves not only through Niger, but also through the countries of Ethiopia, Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Mauritania, Sudan, and other parts of Africa.
Archeologists believe there is a tendency for the Sahara Desert to "move" or "pulse" over time. Research shows pulses of climate and weather changes occurring 10,000 years ago. Climate oscillations corresponded to changes in the societal identity of Late Stone Age people. This behavior pattern is not unique to them. The longer a community stays in one place, the more sedentary it becomes, and the more sedentary the society, the more traditions it develops. When forced to move, traditions are upset, or lost, and specialization diminishes.
Today, climate in the Sahel leaps abruptly and without warning from one mode to another in a completely different manner. It is likely that the same kinds of abrupt shifts occurred during the Medieval Warm Period, creating extraordinary challenges for people engaged in cattle herding, subsistence agriculture, and long-distance trade.
Climate change today magnifies the precarious balance between environmental supply and demand in some parts of the world. This is especially the case in Africa. Climate and weather conditions in fragile transition zones over the short term can have extreme consequences for inhabitants accustomed to seasonal and yearly migration patterns. No part of the world is as reliant on subsistence agriculture as Africa, exposing the people there to the vicissitudes of changing climate.
Climate change can be broken into more discrete categories, especially according to dimensions of time and geography. There are long-term climate patterns, but there are also shorter-term patterns that people ordinarily refer to as weather. Weather constitutes cycles of climate change that shift year-to-year or day-to-day, depending on the time perspective. Within certain climates and microclimates, changes in weather can be significant over the short term. Over the last century, Africa's temperature has been on the rise, mostly for natural reasons, like shifting rainfall patterns:
Observational records show the continent of Africa is warmer than it was
100 years ago____The 5 warmest years in Africa have all occurred since
1988, with 1988 and 1995 the warmest years. This rate of warming is not dissimilar to that experienced globally, and the periods of the most warming - the 1910s to the 1930s and the post-1970s - occur simultaneously in Africa and the world."
Several diverse ethnic groups in Niger live in three different climatic zones. The three zones divide latitude and the degree of intersection with the Sahara. The northern part of the country is the Sahara Desert. The Sahel, to the south, is a transition zone characterized by a combination of desert and scrub. In the far southeast is the Niger River Delta with a tropical climate.
Nomads like the Fulani inhabit the Sahel. Herding and animal husbandry characterize the livelihood of nomads. As animal stocks increase, grazing demands on the fragile ecosystem near the desert exhaust grassland supplies. These extra stresses on vegetation, in addition to the changes in climate, can heighten drought impact.
The Zarma are a cultivating people who live in the Sahel, primarily in western Niger, but there are also some pockets of Zarma in Burkina Faso and Nigeria. The Zarma grow subsistence crops, such as millet, sorghum, rice, corn, tobacco, and cash crops such as cotton and peanuts. This production mode requires some irrigation.
Milk is an important part of diet and culture for both the Zarma and Fulani. The Zarma own cattle, but it is the Fulani or Tuareg people who tend the animals. This complex rental system is an outcome of both economy and culture. When mature, the Zarma drive the cattle to coastal cities of West Africa for sale. Animal husbandry remains one of the main economic activities of Niger. Livestock products include cattle, sheep, goats, and dromedaries.
The Fulani, part of a family of peoples known as the Peule or Fulbe tribes, are a primarily Muslim people found in many parts of West Africa, ranging from Lake Chad to the Atlantic coast, with concentrations in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger. The typical Fulani are nomads, who make temporary camps of portable huts, exchanging dairy produce for cereal foods. After many years of integration with other cultures, and depletion of herds due to environmental conditions, they now rely on farming for livelihood.
Microenvironments that are safe havens during hot periods in the Sahel are disappearing. French colonization of Niger in the 1920s and commodity export policies produced desertification by overuse of resources. The result was a large-scale focus on grazing and cash crops that led to a decline in the health of the microenvironment.
The Niger government and multilateral aid agencies hope to increase water supplies (small dams and deeper wells, for example) but some warn that the increase in water without an increase in appropriate grazing land is a recipe for disaster. More water attracts more farmers to the arid lands of the Fulani.
Niger's agricultural policy intends to achieve food self-sufficiency regardless of climate change. Approaches include methods to survive short-term water stress (including dry cropping in rural areas), hydro-agricultural projects, and use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and manure. These measures will not be able to counter the larger trend of climate change, but only delay it.
Colonization skewed traditional relationships. In Nigeria, British courts tended to side with pastoralists over cultivators. Colonizers who favored one group over another to secure allegiance also pushed the traditional pastoralfarmer relationship into often politically untenable areas.
The conflict between the Fulani and Zarma is a recurring situation that exemplifies differing styles of subsistence systems. The tradition of pastoral versus farming lifestyles is a theme that reverberates throughout history.
The clash between pastoralists and farmers goes far back, being recorded in the Bible (Genesis 4) and other ancient documents. It began with the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain cultivated land and Abel tended flocks. Both made offerings to God from their labors. God favored Abel's offering, which angered firstborn Cain. Out of spite, Cain killed his brother.
Pastoralist people had the advantage of developing a warfare system based on the animals (horses) that they reared. The Mongols are an example of a relatively small pastoral population that conquered large parts of the farming world. A similar tension exists between the Woolofs in Senegal, who are farmers, and the Peule and Fulbe peoples, who are pastoralists (Puigdefraegas 1995: 65).
The line of the Sahel is a divide of more than climate. Not only does it separate pastoralists from farmers, but also pastoral peoples in the Sahel are largely Muslim and Caucasian while farmers are usually Christian or animist and Negroid.
Country boundaries have little consequence for the pastoralist-farmer conflict, and thus this type of tension is not limited to Niger. For pastoralists like the Fulani, water and grazing land are essential resources. Farmers, like the Zarma, need water (for irrigation) and fertile land. Irrigation requires digging wells and building a water supply system. Conflict occurs when the land and water needs of the two groups clash.
The southward drift of the Sahel in the mid-1990s during a dry period pushed Fulani herders south towards greener pastures. Unfortunately, this encroached on the lands of the Zarma. The two groups clashed over diminishing pasture and water resources.
In 1997, seven people were killed and 43 wounded in separate clashes between Fulani herders and Zarma farmers in Niger. Seven died near the village of Falmaye southeast of the capital Niamey (Furber 1997). Zarma villagers allegedly attacked a Fulani camp, avenging the death of a Zarma in an earlier fight with Fulani herders. Three victims burned to death. In 2002 and 2003, violence broke out between the Fulani and various cultivating groups in central and northeastern Nigeria. The extended conflict killed at least 2,000, while about 23,000 Fulani fled Nigeria for Cameroon (Herrero 2006: 122).
The Northwest Passage: warming, and new territory claims
One beneficial consequence of climate change is that it will allow people to work and live in today's extremely cold climates. The warming will allow new types of agriculture, resource extraction, and transportation modes. Sea traffic through the Arctic Polar areas will be increasingly possible with time, and offer the dream that many explorers have sought: the Northwest Passage through Canada and the Northeast Passage above Russia.
Climate change will have an impact on both military power and patterns of economic interaction through trade. By doing so, it can have a tremendous impact over time on national policy and the basic elements of security and economic stability. Global terra-forming creates new opportunities, like those that lured the Beothuks and the Vikings, who expanded their territory during the Medieval Climate Optimum.
The idea of a Northwest Passage connection between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans was of interest to Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century, and has been so to many others since then. Martin Frobisher, an English privateer (a pirate licensed by England) and Henry Hudson (an English explorer and navigator) both sought the Northwest Passage.
The first expedition to attempt to traverse the Northwest Passage took place in 1845 under Sir John Franklin. He commanded two ships (Erebus and Terror) and "took a crew of 134 men and three years worth of supplies - including a piano, fine crystal, 1,200 books and the best technology of the time. Wives and girlfriends of crewmembers confidently sent their letters to China" (CBC News 2006). The letters were unanswered, because the crew never made it.
The first expedition to successfully traverse the passage (one way) between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans occurred in the period between 1903 and 1906, and was led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. When he reached Nome, Alaska, in 1906, he learned that Norway had become independent from Sweden. Amundsen sent a note to the new king, Haakon VII, saying his journey was Norway's achievement.
After Roald Amundsen's 1906 expedition, the idea of the passage received new interest during World War II. Canada then attempted to improve on Amundsen's travel record and traverse the passage in both directions:
From 1940 to 1942, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St. Roch navigated the passage from west to east for the first time as a show of Canadian sovereignty over the North. At the end of its journey, the St. Roch turned around and went back, making it the first vessel to complete the journey in both directions.
(CBC News 2006)
US attempts to traverse the passage have been a source of controversy with the Canadian government. Two cases stand out. In 1969, the oil tanker SS Manhattan traveled the corridor without Canadian permission. Ostensibly, the idea was to test the waterway for transport of oil supplies with supertankers. The US Government was well aware of the Manhattan's plans. The second case occurred at the height of the Cold War:
In 1985, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea transited the passage -without asking the Canadian government for permission. The political fallout over what was considered the most direct challenge to Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic led to the signing of the Arctic Co-operation Agreement in 1988 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
(CBC News 2006)
The agreement was largely symbolic: it said that the United States must ask, but that Canada must then permit passage. There was no mention of the legal status of the waters. The benefits of a Northwest Passage are tangible, and translate into real economic benefits:
The Northwest Passage is 7,000 kilometers shorter than the current shipping route through the Panama Canal. That amounts to two weeks saved in traveling time. From London to Tokyo via the canal, the distance through the Panama Canal is about 23,000 kilometers. Traveling east through the Suez Canal is also longer at 21,000 kilometers. The route through the passage is just 16,000 kilometers.
(CBC News 2006)
The Canadian Government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, considers the Northwest Passage a key part of Canadian national security policy. In his 2006 inaugural speech, Harper stressed Canada's sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, in a message directed at the United States and other countries. As part of this Northern Policy, Harper claimed sovereignty over Hans Island. The island is near Greenland, and Denmark claims the island as its own.
Estimates on warming and use of the passage vary. On the one hand, "University of British Columbia Prof. Michael Byers said the Northwest Passage would be clear of ice during the summer months in 25 years, and he urged the government to take action" (CBC News 2006). Other research suggests that the route may be ice-free all year round in a range from 50 to 100 years. The likely outcome is warming that will free up some areas faster than others.
Interest in the Northwest Passage extends beyond the United States and Canada, as other countries are also likely to use the corridor. In 1999, a Russian company transported a floating dry dock through the passage and south to Bermuda. A Russian icebreaker plowed a path for the transport (Huebert 2001).
Russia is not alone in exploring its options. Later that year, a Chinese research vessel transited the passage, stopping at the remote village of Tuktoyaktuk. While the Chinese informed the Canadian government of its plans, the locals had no idea, and were startled to see a Chinese vessel docking (Huebert 2001).
The Northeast Passage has drawn serious attention from Japan. Japan is studying options for using the passage for shipping goods to Europe and the east coast of North America. The Russians provide icebreakers to other countries to facilitate explorations, and have assisted Japan. The Russians hope this tactic will strengthen claims by acknowledging Russian hegemony and historic claims.
Canada's view, then and now, is that since the 1880 deed transfer (of the Arctic Archipelago from the UK to Canada), the waters of the Arctic Archipelago have been Canada's internal waters by virtue of historical title (Huebert 2001). Canada could also use exceptions for cold climates found in the Law of the Sea Treaty to enhance its rights in the area. One area, for example, is the enforcement of environmental pollution standards.
Canada could invoke more exacting environmental standards through the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS). Article 234, the ice-covered waters clause, allows a State to pass legislation that exceeds international standards for any ice-covered waters within its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
There are four security-related implications to the opening of both passages. First, traditional security problems of an international waterway will arise. This panoply of ills includes smuggling, crime, and other features of transportation networks. Second, the spread of new and exotic diseases via these trade routes can be a potential problem. Canadian airports, after all, were significant entry points for SARS for a variety of reasons. Third, even if Canada implements strong environmental regulations, the probability of an accident will increase with the corresponding growth of ship traffic. As the Exxon Valdez accident demonstrated, the grounding of a large vessel in fragile polar waters can produce an ecological disaster. Fourth, the lifestyle of Canada's northern Aboriginal peoples, as well as Russia's, will dramatically change with increased international shipping. There will need to be some support programs for such large transitions of demography and lifestyle.
This is not to say that the overall impact on Northern Canada or Russia will necessarily be negative. From an economic standpoint, this will be a boom area and a substantial opportunity for development.
There are some advantages to the melting of the Northwest Passage. Singapore has demonstrated that with the proper planning, geographical location on an international strait can bring substantial economic benefits. Vessels transiting the Passage would require certain services. For example, Tuk-toyaktuk and Iqaluit could conceivably become important ports of call if their port facilities were substantially improved.
Canada has attempted to develop some protocols and potential routes (see Map 2.2). "New multilateral efforts to prepare for increased maritime traffic in the Arctic have also begun in the 1990s. An initiative of the Canadian Coast Guard led a group of Arctic coastal states and relevant international shipping companies to meet in 1993 to develop what is now known as the Polar Code" (Huebert 2001). The code sets some minimum standards for conduct.
What are international versus Canadian waters is debatable. Under the UNCLOS agreement, the definition of international versus national waters is determined by the distance from shoreline to shoreline. How that distance is calculated can be preferential to country claims. One way to calculate distance is by using shoreline averages. By this definition, the waters surrounding the Canadian Archipelago would be Canadian waters. Another way to calculate is by measuring the maximum and minimum points from continental to island points. This
method of calculation favors the US view that these are international waters. A rise in sea level will work against the Canadian argument, because distances between land points will increase. UNCLOS provisions seem to support the Canadian claim, at least for the moment. In 1986, Canada claimed the sea area surrounding over 16,000 islands (Zorzetto 2006).
The dispute over the Northwest Passage right-of-way demonstrates how changing climate can invite conflict as the national interests of differing countries collide. New climates create new possibilities and opportunities, and draw in differences in ownership rules. A key travel route sought after for centuries will be a reality. It is akin to nature building a Panama or Suez Canal, or several of them.
Amundsen also led the first expedition to reach the South Pole and safely return. Amundsen outraced Britain's Robert Falcon Scott, who trailed by three months. Scott perished on the return trip, along with his team. Amundsen's exploration of the Northwest Passage was an honor for Norway, but the purpose of his exploration of Antarctica was to establish Norwegian territorial claims.
Explorers are leading indicators of country territorial claims and bases for legal sovereign rights. In the past, it did not matter if people were already living there. Today, and in the future, it will. Nevertheless, being the first there, in person, remains a benchmark for territorial claims.
Christopher Columbus' voyages, starting in 1492, laid the basis for Spain's extensive land claims in the Western hemisphere. The voyages of Roald Amundsen and Neil Armstrong will likely have similar historical reverberations in territorial claims in Antarctica and outer space for Norway and the United States, respectively.
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